Sunday, December 12, 2010
I'm a book gal - no doubt about it. Read all about it is a motto that has served me very well. Want to learn to knit? Read, follow directions, voila - knit! Want to learn to cook? Well, you get the idea. So, when I was pregnant, I faithfully followed all instructions in What to Expect When You're Expecting and a host of other books I'm willing to bet we've all at least thumbed through. But once my kids were born, my tried and true method began to fail. Parenting advice on any number of vital subjects (colic, sleep, picky eating,separation anxiety, time outs) not only failed me, but led me down disastrous paths I never would have chosen instinctually - sleep in particular, was a minefield I would handle entirely differently. It took me an astonishingly long time to realize that children, unlike stitches and risottos, will not behave in predictable ways and that regardless of how well one "pattern/recipe" may have turned out for another parent: results will definitely vary.
Now, having abandoned almost all bookish advice on child rearing, I will occasionally glance through the child rearing advice section at bookstores, but I generally regard them as biographies of parenting adventures having little or nothing to do with my particular adventure. Coming across Bronson and Merryman's Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, however, I have to put it in a new and far more interesting category. This is one of the first books I've read that explains why most parenting ideas I read when my children were toddlers backfired so dramatically on me.
Nurture Shock doesn't offer any specific advice; it simply analyzes outcomes of various parenting strategies in light of the most recent research on the science of child development/behavior. With that premise it can take on subjects like why and how praise backfires, why most strategies to encourage truthfulness in children end up making them better liars, what we actually lose when we lose an hour of sleep, how and if self-control can be taught and many other subjects I found fascinating. One chapter onsibling rivalry was subtitled "Freud was wrong. Shakespeare was right. Why siblings really fight." - Now you know that got my attention! I was also particularly impressed with a chapter on children's television that focuses on specific programming techniques that are backfiring. I happen to agree with McLuhan that the "medium is the message," but I found it fascinating to discover why children's programming aimed at teaching "conflict resolution" fails so dramatically. Other chapters tackle such subjects as gifted programs, "The Science of Teen Rebellion," "Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race," and early language acquisition. Overall, I found it a fascinating look at modern parenting and recommend it wholeheartedly.